Lessons in Movement Making from Starlings

Lessons in Movement Making from Starlings

I recently saw a video of starlings doing this thing called “murmuration” and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Murmuration is a natural phenomenon common to starlings, which gather in huge flocks – sometimes as many as a million birds. Scientists have been curious about murmurations for some time and they recently developed ways to study them. What they have found is that flocked starlings participate in murmuration in reaction to a change, often the presence of a predator like a falcon. The starlings take flight in an amazing coordinated mass of birds, instantaneously changing direction and velocity. Murmurations have been called “bird ballet” because of the fluidity and beauty of the coordinated bird-flow. Here is a video of starlings in murmuration:



Murmuration is a natural phenomenon common to starlings which gather in huge flocks.

How these massive coordinated changes in movement work has been the subject of much scientific study. As it turns out, the secret of murmuration is identical to other systems that apply to the edges of change. In starling flocks, the velocity and direction of one bird affects the velocity and direction of the rest. Each shift in a murmuration is called a critical transition. The size of the flock does not matter, and no matter how small or large the group, if one bird changes direction so do others. To watch a flock in murmuration is to see movement without leaders. Each bird is reacting in relation to the bird nearest it. Scientists discovered that one bird’s movement affects its seven closest neighbors and each of those birds’ movements affect seven more birds, and so on, and so on. These critical transitions happen with lightning speed within the flock and this gives murmurations the look of a choreographed dance.

Our Movement in Murmuration

It seems to me that the movement to end violence against women and girls is in murmuration these days. As a member of the Third Cohort of Move to End Violence, a program of the Novo Foundation, I am part of the movement that is at the edge of one shift within the movement, moving from working in isolation to being interconnected; moving from being reactive to being proactive; moving from focusing on social services to focusing on social change. The shifts are relational and happen as a result of the connections I have with others, mostly people working within the center of the movement.

As in murmurations, changes within the movement can happen with lightning speed and they might seem a bit scary – but I have faith in those around me. I trust in the Movement Makers in Cohort One who defined the changes we need to reach the most marginalized victims, and the Movement Makers in Cohort Two who deeply explored and analyzed the connections that impact marginalized individuals. I have faith in the full constellation of our movement, from the centered coalition community to the individuals and groups acting to support victims who are hidden or left behind by mainstream systems. I have faith enough to move with the change, to stay with the movement, and to see what happens next.

Karen Tronsgard-Scott
Karen Tronsgard-Scott
Executive Director
Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

Karen Tronsgard-Scott has been working to end violence against women in Vermont, across the country and in eastern Europe since 1995. She is focused on collaborating with others to create communities devoted to ending gender-based violence. Learn More

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